Manning's prosecution begins

Nicole Colson reports on the latest turns in the Obama administration's prosecution of alleged whistleblower Bradley Manning.

Bradley ManningBradley Manning

ON FEBRUARY 23, Bradley Manning--the 24-year-old Army private accused of leaking a vast amount of classified military information to the muckraking WikiLeaks website--will face a formal arraignment in Fort Meade, Va., as the government moves forward with preparations for a court martial that could land Manning in a military prison for life.

In December, Manning faced an Article 32 hearing, in which a military judge found there was enough evidence for the government to prosecute the soldier on 22 counts, including wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, knowing that it would be accessed by the enemy, and violating Army regulations on information security.

The most serious charge Manning faces is "aiding the enemy"--an offense that carries a potential death sentence, although military officials have stated that they will "only" ask for Manning to be sentenced to life.

Manning, who served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq, is accused of releasing hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables, as well as the so-called "collateral murder" video that shows U.S. pilots in Iraq carrying out the murder of civilians and journalists in 2007.

What you can do

Visit the Bradley Manning Support Network Web site for information and updates on the case. The Support Network is currently asking activists to call in to Obama administration and congressional officials and demand that the charges against Manning be dropped.

You can also sign a petition authored by veteran and Occupy Oakland activist Scott Olsen in support of Manning or donate to the Bradley Manning legal defense fund.

At the hearing, Manning's lawyers were prevented from calling their requested witnesses, except for 10 who also happen to appear on the government's witness list.

Manning's lawyers claim the young soldier was under extreme stress as a result of being either gay or transgendered (reports vary) in a climate of hostility in the military, and that even Manning's Army doctors believed the private was not fit for duty. They also point out that the government--in an effort to make an example of Manning--has overcharged the soldier for carrying out essentially what are acts of conscience.

The lawyers dispute the government's repeated claims that Manning's actions have harmed national security. Such claims are wildly overblown, they say, especially considering there is no evidence to suggest that any material allegedly leaked by Manning has led to the harm of either U.S. soldiers or civilians.

As then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted in an interview in 2010, "I've heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as a meltdown, as a game-changer, and so on...I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought...Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest."

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THE OBAMA administration's war on Bradley Manning is tied to its drive to shut down the WikiLeaks website, which has given the U.S. war machine a black eye by exposing various war crimes and illegal activity by U.S. forces and diplomats overseas.

At Manning's Article 32 hearing in December, prosecutors presented evidence allegedly showing that Manning communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the uploading of hundreds of interrogation reports of Guantanamo Bay detainees. Months ago, reports suggested that the U.S. government had convened a grand jury in Virginia in an attempt to eventually bring charges against Assange. Convicting Manning is seen as a step toward that end.

The Obama administration would also like to make an example out of Manning and other whistleblowers. Indeed, Manning's prosecution is part of a larger pattern of intimidation, harassment and prosecution of those who have exposed government abuses under the Obama administration.

The administration has invoked the Espionage Act at least six times against government whistleblowers, including most recently against CIA officer John Kiriakou for allegedly providing information in 2009 about CIA torture of detainees through waterboarding. Previously, the act had been used against whistleblowers just three times since it became law in 1917.

Peter Van Buren, a former State Department Foreign Service officer, wrote in an article for Salon.com about the Espionage Act's sordid history outside of persecuting whistleblowers. Chiefly, he wrote, it has:

been used against the government's political opponents. Targets included labor leaders and radicals like Eugene V. Debs, Bill Haywood, Philip Randolph, Victor Berger, John Reed, Max Eastman and Emma Goldman. Debs, a union leader and socialist candidate for the presidency, was, in fact, sentenced to 10 years in jail for a speech attacking the Espionage Act itself. The Nixon administration infamously (and unsuccessfully) invoked the Act to bar the New York Times from continuing to publish the classified Pentagon Papers.

Yet extreme as use of the Espionage Act against government insiders and whistleblowers may be, it's only one part of the Obama administration's attempt to sideline, if not always put away, those it wants to silence.

Increasingly, federal agencies or departments intent on punishing a whistleblower are also resorting to extra-legal means. They are, for instance, manipulating personnel rules that cannot be easily challenged and do not require the production of evidence. And sometimes, they are moving beyond traditional notions of "punishment" and simply seeking to destroy the lives of those who dissent.

Van Buren notes the case of Thomas Drake, whose home was raided at gunpoint and who was forced out of his job with the National Security Agency (NSA) after he revealed that the NSA "spent $1.2 billion on a contract for a data collection program called Trailblazer when the work could have been done in-house for $3 million." He added:

The Obama administration, which arrived in Washington promoting "sunshine" in government, turned out to be committed to silence and the censoring of less-than-positive news about its workings. While it has pursued no prosecutions against CIA torturers, senior leaders responsible for Abu Ghraib or other war crimes, or anyone connected with the illegal surveillance of American citizens, it has gone after whistleblowers and leakers with ever-increasing fierceness, both in court and inside the halls of various government agencies.

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MANNING, MEANWHILE, has been put through months of well-documented torture while awaiting trial--including being confined to a 6-by-12-foot cell for 23 hours each day, constantly watched on video cameras, denied physical exercise and articles of clothing and bedding, denied sleep during the day, and repeatedly woken by guards throughout the night.

When State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was forced to resign last year for calling Manning's treatment "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid," he was forced to resign.

It was only after a support campaign mobilized by advocates, including Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg, filmmaker Michael Moore, columnist Glenn Greenwald, Lt. Dan Choi and others--that Manning was finally transferred out of solitary confinement and his treatment finally improved somewhat.

As Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald noted in December, none of the information that Manning is alleged to have released carried a "top secret" designation. More importantly, Manning's alleged decision to release the information deserves to be hailed for exposing the depths of the lies being told to the public about the "war on terror" by successive U.S. administrations. As Greenwald wrote:

Just as [Daniel] Ellsberg repeatedly explained that he could not in good conscience stand by and have the world remain ignorant of the government lies he discovered about the Vietnam War (a war he once supported and helped plan), so, too, did Manning repeatedly state that these leaks were vital for informing the world about the depths of brutality, corruption and deceit driving these wars (including one war to which he was deployed as a soldier)--all with the goal of triggering what he called "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms."

Moreover, Greenwald pointed out, Manning's alleged actions exposed atrocities committed by U.S.-friendly Middle East dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, contributing in a real way to the Arab Spring, and they revealed multiple war crimes committed by U.S. troops in Iraq, which ultimately helped bring the U.S. war to a close.

If he committed these actions, Manning is more deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize--which he has been officially nominated for--than Barack Obama ever could be.

In the weeks and months between now and the official start of Manning's court-martial, it will be up to activists to continue to organize, rally and petition to keep the pressure on the Obama administration to release Manning. As Greenwald wrote, "If he is the WikiLeaks leaker, history will judge Manning as kindly as it has Ellsberg--and will view his persecutors just as unkindly as Nixon officials are viewed today for what they tried to do in the face of the Pentagon Papers leak."